It’s August and it’s hotter than a space pirate’s fusion drive. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but whether you’re escaping the heat, or avoiding thinking about the end of summer, there’s plenty to read this month.
I’m a big fan of Adrian Tchaikovsky, and this month he kicks off a new series with Shards of Earth (8/3) where “moon-sized aliens” have been twisting whole worlds into weird sculptures. If you want space techno fiction, look no further than Holdout (8/3) by Jeffrey Kluger where a lone astronaut refuses to leave a damaged ISS, because “She’d prefer not to.” Marko Kloos is always on my shortlist, and his third Paladian War book, Citadel (8/10) lives up to expectations.
J.S. Dewes is back with her tale of abandoned Sentinels at the edge of a collapsing universe with The Exiled Fleet (8/17), Ben Bova finally gets to the last planet on his Grand Tour in Neptune (8/17), and folks go to Ganymede to see if they can forget their troubles in Reclaimed by Madeleine Roux (8/17). Fergus the Galactic Finder is back, looking for stuff, though this time on earth in The Scavenger Door by Suzanne Palmer (8/17), and a woman who travels between worlds collecting memories realizes she’s forgotten something important in Light Chaser by the high powered duo of Peter F. Hamilton and Gareth L. Powell.
What’s a summer without a road trip and a blockbuster movie? Well, you get one of each in R.W.W. Greene’s post apoco travelogue; Twenty-Five to Life (8/24) and Pat Cadigan’s novelization of Alien 3: The Unproduced First-Draft Screenplay by William Gibson (with William Gibson) (8/31).
So go ahead, enjoy the summer with a book or ten!
- Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky | 08/03/21|Orbit Books
- Holdout by Jeffrey Kluger | 08/03/21|Dutton
- Citadel by Marko Kloos | 08/10/21|47North
- The Exiled Fleet by J. S. Dewes | 08/17/21|Macmillan-Tor/Forge
- Neptune by Ben Bova | 08/17/21|Tor Books
- Reclaimed by Madeleine Roux | 08/17/21|Ace
- The Scavenger Door by Suzanne Palmer | 08/17/21|DAW
- Light Chaser by Peter F. Hamilton; Gareth L. Powell | 08/24/21|Macmillan-Tor/Forge
- Twenty-Five to Life by R.W.W. Greene | 08/24/21|Angry Robot
- Alien 3: The Unproduced First-Draft Screenplay by William Gibson (with William Gibson) Pat Cadigan | 08/31/21|Titan
if you can’t wait for these titles to be released, check out last month’s column.
Novels (in order of publication)
Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Shards of Earth is one of the best examples of space opera I can remember reading, intelligent and exciting in equal measures, and Adrian Tchaikovsky is a worthy successor to Ian Banks. He kicks off a new space opera saga where the Earth has been artistically sculpted into a weird flower-like object by moon-sized aliens known as The Architects, and not just the Earth, but many of her colony worlds as well. But that was half a century before Shards of Earth opens, back when genetically modified humans, called Ints, were able to contact the aliens’ minds to stay their hands. When a ship is found wrecked and twisted in just the way Architects rend things, it looks like they’re back. Idris, one of the original Ints, and Solace, the warrior that stood by his side during the original conflict, must face the threat once again. There’s a terrific cast of characters, including the crew of the salvage tug that Idris has been holed up on, and well-crafted clashes of civilizations elevates this beyond pulp. Highly Recommended.
Holdout by Jeffrey Kluger
It’s hard to write near-future sci-fi because the future keeps one uping you. Literally, less than a week before Jeffrey Kluger’s space disaster novel went live, the accident that kicks it off actually happened, though fortunately, it wasn’t as serious (Russia’s Nauka module briefly tilts space station with unplanned thruster fire – Space.com). In Kluger’s novel, a Russian supply ship rams the ISS forces the crew to abandon ship…except former Naval fighter pilot turned astronaut Walli Beckwith won’t get on the bus. She’d rather stay on the crippled station and use it as a bully pulpit to rally the planet below for a cause she believes in; saving the Amazon rainforest. Someone told me that techno-fiction is sci-fi when the American president gets a role, and this is a perfect example. The author’s strength is his weakness, having written numerous articles about the hazards of space flight and more than a few books on the subject. So if you’re into space hardware and saving the rainforest, this one’s for you.
Citadel by Marko Kloos
Citadel is the third book in Kloos’ Paladian War series, and I only wish they’d come faster. Set in the colonized system of Gaia, the Gretians had the most Earth-like of the worlds but decided they should rule over the other planets as well. They lost that war and are now occupied by Alliance forces, but insurgents keep stirring up trouble…everything from hit and run attacks to sneaking a nuke through orbital defenses on one of the other worlds. Arden Jansen was a Gretian intel analyst, but after the war, he hid his past and found a home on the Zephyr, a fast courier with a tight-knit crew that often handles questionable cargo, including a rouge nuke which they turned over to the Alliance rather than to the insurgents, earning themselves powerful enemies. The best defense is a good offense. There are several story threads here, all of which we can expect to tie together over time, but the bottom line is that Kloos writes really great high octane sf with a military edge to it, much like the best of Bujold’s Vorkosigan stories. Highly Recommended.
The Exiled Fleet by J. S. Dewes
In what feels like the middle book of a trilogy, J.S. Dewes returns us to the Sentinel fleet stationed at the literal edge of the universe, a universe that appears to be collapsing inward, which we discovered in the first book, Now Cavalon, the prince in exile who hid out from responsibility by studying fusion mechanics, has to put his knowledge to work to create a power source that can give the abandoned Sentinels a way to keep from being run over by the collapse, and maybe even go back to face the tyrant that abandoned them there to die. Led by Adequin Rake, the war hero that ended the conflict with (ironically) the aliens that were keeping the universe from breaking, a crew of thousands of rejects are going to have to decide where their loyalties lie and who they’ll follow. The first book was pretty straightforward, but this one meanders a bit before setting up for the conclusion.
Neptune by Ben Bova
What a long strange trip it’s been, riding along with Ben Bova on his Grand Tour of the solar system. Bova died in 2020 to covid-related pneumonia, but not before finishing at least part of his visit to the final planet in the tour, and completing the planetary set (Pluto having been taken off the list). In Neptune, Ilona Magyr, is the daughter of a wealthy scientist who disappeared exploring the ocean beneath the planet’s frozen surface. Alone in a submarine at the far reach of the solar system, hundreds of kilometers below the surface and not heard from for the past three years, he’s been given up for dead. But not by Ilona, who mounts an expedition of her own, recruiting the best man for the job (“That’s probably true,” Humbolt said…). There’s a lot they didn’t count on, including the wreckage of an ancient alien spacecraft at the bottom of Neptune’s sea, a discovery that poses more questions than answers. I gather that Neptune was planned as part of a trilogy, so we may yet see another book or so from one of science fiction’s most prolific hard science writers, but if not, Bova ends the tour with the same sense of wonder and possibility that he began it.
Reclaimed by Madeleine Roux
Selective memory erasure is a popular theme in science fiction, from Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Rember it for You Wholesale,” better known as the movie Total Recall, to the creepiest of Jim Carey’s movies, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Roux has done a nice job of showing that it’s not a simple thing to erase memories, as she gathers three very different subjects at a remote Ganymede laboratory run by an Elon-Musk-type tech wizard. A supermodel wants to forget the death of her stalker/ex-manager, a young tech savant wants to forget missing his mother’s last call, and a cult survivor wants to forget ever wanting to drink the Kool-aid. The tech-bro already seems to have forgotten that his best friend actually pioneered the process before getting sucked into a black hole…but memories are funny things and they sometimes pop up when you least expect them.
The Scavenger Door by Suzanne Palmer
Suzanne Palmer is back with the continuing adventures of Fergus Ferguson, a galactic finder of things that went missing. At the end of the last book, Driving the Deep, his friends convinced him to go home to Earth and settle the score with his estranged cousin. That actually went pretty well, including meeting a sister he didn’t know he had. Now the cousin has gotten him involved with a search for an alien artifact, somewhere on Earth for a change, that may well be able to “open a multi-dimensional door between Earth and a vast, implacable, alien swarm of devourers.” I enjoyed the last book, and expect Fergus will be as entertaining as ever.
Light Chaser by Peter F. Hamilton; Gareth L. Powell
Amahle is thousands of years old, but thanks to relativistic travel, and well, immortality, she doesn’t look it. She’s one of a group of Light Chasers who travel between human colonized star systems in mankind’s most advanced ships, handing out gifts of tech and picking up devices that record the wearer’s lives and are passed down from generation to generation. Over that much time, you’re bound to forget a few things, but Amahle discovers that more than a few things have been kept from her, thanks to hidden messages in the life recordings. The plot is a bit like the recent Mark Wahlberg film, Infinite, in which reincarnated individuals hone their skills over the eons. Amahle isn’t up against a human cabal, though: she’s fighting an alien force in the far future that wants to keep mankind tame. Winning this fight will cost her.
Twenty-Five to Life by R.W.W. Greene
If you like dystopian road trip stories, you’re gonna enjoy Twenty-Five to Life. All the lucky folks left for Venus on colony ships, because what’s left of the eco-crashed, pandemic-plagued, toxic waste dump of a planet isn’t all that great. Julie is just under 25, the age when you’re declared an adult and stuffed into government housing (the Cube) and fed VR till you die. The alternative, which she takes, is to slip out of the system altogether and join up with the wandering Volksgeist and make the best of a bad world. Julie meets up with a gal named Ranger, and the two van their way across the blighted US, which turns out to be as full of beauty as danger. Fans of other post-apocalyptic road trips, like Reed King’s FKA USA: A Novel or Sarah Gailey’s Upright Women Wanted, where lesbian librarians roam the purple sage, should like this. Recommended.
Alien 3: The Unproduced First-Draft Screenplay by William Gibson (with William Gibson) by Pat Cadigan
I can’t thank Cadigan enough for turning Gibson’s draft of an Alien 3 movie into a novel. If only the franchise had had the sense to take the author of Neuromancer up on his pitch, I might actually have been able to get through a third Alien movie. Actually, I’ve seen them all, but I only liked the first two, and seriously…Aliens was the high point. In this draft, Hicks, the marine that Ripley gets off the planet with Ripley at the end of Aliens, and Newt, the child that she also managed to save, don’t die in the opening credits scene, but Ripley spends much of the action on ice. Of course an alien makes it back on the ship, and when commandoes board the vessel they get it in the face. Hicks and Newt go different ways, but I’m sure it all comes back around. Gibson is brilliant, and Cadigan is one of the bright lights in our sf firmament. Recommended.
The Usual Suspects
Here you’ll find some links to some reliable lists for new releases and other reviewer’s lists for the month, which I may update as they come in. You might check them out at:
- Amazon.com: Editor’s Picks – Best Books of the Month: Science Fiction & Fantasy
- Goodreads: Science Fiction New Releases
- Kobo: New & Hot in Science Fiction & Fantasy
- Locus Magazine (online): Forthcoming Books
- Gizmodo: New Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books to Add to Your Reading List in July
- Transfer Orbit Reading List (Andrew Liptak): August 2021 Reading List
- IMDB: Top New Science Fiction Books in August 2021
- Den of Geek: Top New Science Fiction Books in August 2021
About the Reviewer’s Pics:
For the most part, this list sticks to what appeals to me as science fiction, about which I’m willing to be fairly flexible, but if here there be dragons, you can expect to find some tweaked DNA to explain it. I make up this list based on what I’ve read, heard, and am looking forward to. Please note that these are my selections, and do not represent the opinions of the editor or publication.
About Other Recommendations: this is stuff I’ve seen or heard about, but haven’t read yet.